A yawning gap between working men and women’s wages in India

Indispensable employeeOne of the ugly realities of the 21st century is the persistence of a serious gap between the wages of Working men and women around the world. Advanced economies of the United States and Western Europe also still continue to struggle to achieve a fair wage balance between men and women workforce. However, when it comes to developing economies like India, the size of gender-based wage disparities is far more striking.

The recent survey findings by the World Economic Forum (WEF) put the spotlight on India, ranking it among the bottom 10 countries in the world in terms of women’s participation in the economy. The WEF report reveals a shocking disparity between the wage structure of men and women in corporate India. The average annual income of a woman in India is US$ 1,185, compared to US$ 3,698 for the men employed in the India’s corporate sector.

This translates to an average woman’s pay of less than one-third of the average man’s pay in India. The WEF survey finds that India has fared worse than last year in terms of “economic participation and opportunity” for women, pushing the country among the bottom 10 countries on the WEF list. Overall, India achieves a score of 59.4% in terms of gender equality in the survey, but in terms of economic participation and opportunity, it scores a dismal 39.8%. India’s general participation of women in the workforce stands at 36%, where as for professional and technical workers, the figure is 21%.

E. Balaji, director of staffing solutions at Ma Foi, a leading management consultancy firm in India, agrees that wage gap could exist among unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the private sector, but not in the public sector. Sonal Mattoo, a lawyer and founder of “Helping Hands”, an NGO focusing on improvements in HR policies says that a decade ago, a woman’s role in the corporate sector was assumed to be merely secretarial in nature. But even today, the change is barely marginal. The new economy sectors such as Information Technology that supposedly encourage a greater role for women in high-paying jobs, are in fact hiring women primarily for back-office functions such as HR and BPO, while the purely technical, engineering or marketing and management jobs still largely go to the men.

The 2009 WEF survey also supports this argument when it says that even among the best employers in India, women employees hold barely 10% of all senior management positions – in two-thirds of the companies covered under the survey. Nearly 40% of the surveyed companies had a women workforce of less than 10%. At the same time, there is practically no culture among the Indian companies to monitor gender-based wage gaps, with only 4% of the surveyed companies having some sort of a mechanism for it.

Despite its admirable march towards economic liberalization and reforms, India still needs to go a long way in terms of integrating its women workforce equally with the country’s economic progress. At the same time, the Indian corporate sector needs to become more conscious of its social responsibility, and create firm HR policies to reduce gender-based wage disparities.


- Vikas Vij (views expressed in the article are that of the author)


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